When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears

Rumi do no seek loveIf you read this blog regularly, then you know that I’ve struggled over the last couple of years with living on my own. The loneliness tends to creep in around dinner time and sticks around until I fall asleep or numb it out with one of my three go-to additions (TV, food, booze). I’ve tried to remedy this unpleasant feeling in other, more productive ways – meditation, working and playing hard (basically keeping busy), and working with two wonderful Huichol shamans (more on that soon) – but I remain susceptible to its pangs more often than I care to admit. Nevertheless, I think it’s a basic human necessity to share your life with someone with whom you share a special intimate bond.

However, a recent sojourn into that tricky realm brought to my attention that, more often than not, there is a barrier between me and the rest of you that makes having a healthy relationship difficult, if not impossible. It’s nothing unique. I’m pretty sure there are others who have constructed, knowingly or not, a wall between them and the rest of us too. I picture mine as constructed of red brick, old clay bricks, crumbling to create a substantial pile of red rubble on the ground near its base. Large chunks of mortar are missing and the corners of the walls are uneven and lower than the rest of the wall. It’s old and failing, but it still separates me from you. Sometimes I can’t even see or hear you on the other side.

Your wall might be made of stone, concrete, straw bails, or maybe it’s just a sheet of plastic that you can pull down in one fell swoop, but it’s there, separating us, keeping us from connecting. You say I’m just writing in metaphor, but I say it may as well be real because there is nothing more powerful in keeping you from what you want than FEAR.

Fear keeps me bottled up too often. I don’t write more because I’m paralyzed by fear. I don’t reach out to more people because I’m afraid. And fear keeps me from expressing who I really am, in so many ways, far too often.

The blessing is that whereas I’ve been oblivious to its influence on my behavior for most of my life, I see the fear now, recognize it and my attempts at subverting it. I see now how I’ve hurt myself, lost sleep, and a lot of hair trying to outrun the fear. A lot of my actions – like surfing hard, stressing over my body image, and needing to know all the answers – are just me trying to cover up my intense fear that you’ll discover I’m imperfect and therefore unacceptable and unlovable. I’m so afraid of rejection that I do back flips in an attempt to prove to you that I deserve your love and attention.

The funny thing is that I had to be rejected to see how much my actions are motivated by my keen desire to avoid that very rejection.

I fell for someone recently, and as is typical for me, I fell hard, fully, unabashedly, and, it turns out, foolhardily. At first he seemed to be falling too – we were two people falling into the fuzzy abyss of love with big smiles on our faces, holding hands on the way down. We seemed to read each others minds and synchronicities abounded when we were together. For the first couple of weeks I couldn’t walk down the beach without finding heart-shaped rocks. Not just “a” heart-shaped rock, but rock after rock. One of them, about an inch across and pink, was almost perfect. My interpretation? Our love was divinely orchestrated.

But then he let go of my hand and I kept falling.

I fell for a while before I realized that I was on my own in feeling the way I wanted so badly to feel and to be felt about. I was pretty deep down in that hole when I finally  accepted I was alone down there with a goofy grin on my face, holding on to nothing.

That was hard. It felt a lot like someone kicked me in the stomach with steel-toed boots. I guess it was the impact of hitting the hard reality waiting for me at the bottom of my free-fall into unrequited love that knocked the wind out of me. What really happened was over the course of several weeks the other person’s actions (like his reaction when I gave him that pink heart-shaped rock) and what those actions said about how he felt sank in, and I had to admit to myself, “He’s just not that into you.” Yeah, no one wants to hear that, even if it’s your very own heart gently sitting you down and telling you like it is for your own good.

I cried a lot that evening. I took a walk down the beach as the sun was setting and felt the hurt and the anger bubbling up to the surface despite my attempts to keep them down. It all came out in a big blubbering, tear- and regret-filled emotional waterfall. I was angry with myself for being such a fool, for jumping into the deep end of a relationship once again, for wanting it to be what I’ve waited for so badly that I rushed in without giving things time to cure, without giving either of us time to discern whether this was the path forward or not. As the anger dissipated, it was replaced by sadness as I felt, once again, the hole in my heart where loneliness lives.

“Oh, it’s you again,” I said with resignation. “So, tell me, when are you going to leave for good?”

“As soon as you learn to look for love within.”

“I’m working on it,” I said, looking up at a sky filled with so much beauty I knew my thoughts were heard elsewhere.

This experience taught me something that I’ve been unaware of until now. It turns out I’m scared a lot. I’m running scared shitless of what other people think, afraid of people’s judgment, and especially their rejection. My whole life story is driven by avoiding rejection. I’ve said it before, and someone wiser probably said it long before, fear is a poor motivator. It’s a lot like running from your own shadow. You can never outrun it. And I’ve tired of running.

The good news is that somehow during this experience, I realized that this heart of mine is full of love. As I ran over in my mind what happened and how things had fizzled so fast, I considered my actions in both romantic and other relationships and saw that they are more often than not caring, giving, and kind – all demonstrations of love. Gratitude, appreciation, and empathy are all rooted in love as well and these are emotions I experience daily. This made me realize that the fear that has driven me so often is not so much solid like a wall, but merely a smokescreen hiding the love that has always been right here inside me. To transform it and pass to the other side where we can all connect, I just need to turn that love inwards and recognize that I deserve my own loving embrace as much as anyone else does. So far, I mostly know this intellectually, but little by little I’m beginning to feel it in my soul.

thinklessfeelmore“Think less, feel more” was one of the many wise things my lover-turned-friend-and-teacher said to me during our courtship.

I can feel it right here in my heart, that unconditional love that I keep looking for elsewhere…I’m getting close, so very close.

IMG_0519

One of the miraculous sunsets we’ve been treated to lately.

 

 

Trust

Le Petit PrinceI’ve had a while to ponder this the third in a series of posts (to start reading from the beginning go here). I meant to write it soon after the previous one, but If life is a box of chocolates, then I keep getting the really bad ones…you know, the ones no one wants…the turd-filled kind. These shitty circumstances, and, it turns out, some deep-seated misgivings, stopped me from continuing after I came close to finishing a first draft of this. Circumstances included a trip to San Francisco to attend the annual writers conference and then yet another illness – this time the flu with a fever that made my eyes feel like they were on fire and my head like it would explode, the worst I’ve had since contracting dengue in 2003. It put me in bed for five days straight. My misgivings – the greater of the two obstacles – stem from the delicate nature of the matter at hand and, honestly, much like the illness, I don’t think I’m quite recovered. But like they say, there’s nothing like baring your soul to heal the wounds therein. So here goes.

After my existence was referred to as “Bukowskian,” I thought it high time I schooled myself on what exactly that means. I bought of a book of his poetry and stumbled across a piece, called The Crunch, that contained this excerpt:

there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.

people so tired
mutilated
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners.

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place
alone

untouched
unspoken to
watering a plant.

Charles Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell

Those last two stanzas punched their way home, leaving me slightly dazed, but determined to extinguish the loneliness my soul’s been steeped in. I was over being Bukowski’s poster child.

I returned to the online dating site. As you may recall from my previous post, I’d avoided putting any money on the line. Now when a check finally arrived for some work I’d done months earlier, I took it as a sign that I should pay for a full subscription. When push came to shove, I found myself hesitating though, going back and forth from the page that would take me to PayPal, to the page displaying the names of lots of presumably lonely men. It took me another day to actually click on the “Pay” button.

I know I’ve said it before, but I was surprised how scared I was, how much courage I had to muster to open the door fully to the potential relationships on that site.  I wondered how I could be so fearful of exploring the online singles world and I was pretty hard on myself. Only now do I remind myself that I’d never done this before and I hadn’t dated for going on ten years.

Tentatively, I began the process of seeing who was out there. The first thing I noticed was that without exception everyone was “outside my match parameters.” I recalled the wine-fogged night I answered the personality profile and wondered if that wasn’t influencing the results. I also began to feel duped by the wily marketers who got me to part with my hard-earned cash.

The second thing I realized was that there were almost no surfers to be found. Not being a surfer was a deal breaker, much the same way being a smoker was. Eventually, it became apparent that I was limiting my options by nixing anyone who didn’t surf and focusing on guys from the west coast, so one day I decided to look outside those limits. I clicked on the photo of a guy I’d been intrigued by, one part because of his blue eyes, the other because of his nice suit. Unlike the profiles of a lot of men, his was complete and well written. He sounded like someone who cared a lot about helping others. I decided to reach out.

The process of getting to know him couldn’t have been more different than anything I’ve experienced before. Where relationships are concerned I’ve historically been a two-feet-into-the-deep-end kinda gal, but in this case our physical separation necessitated that we take things slow. I reasoned that this was precisely what the doctor ordered. Maybe this time I’d see the red flags when they were waving, rather than being blinded by proximity and, frankly, lust. We exchanged long letters – I have to call them “letters” because they were far too carefully penned and poetic to be lumped in with the texting-influenced one-liners that so many emails have become – they were heart-felt, emotions-on-the-page, revelatory letters of the sort I imagine people once wrote while courting over vast distances, long before the internet sucked up vast amounts of our time, back when people were promised to someone they’d never met. This guy could write! And he was opening himself up and being vulnerable in a way few men, in my experience, have been willing to do. My excitement mounted. And before I knew it, we were making plans to meet. I was headed home for Christmas and would be flying through San Francisco on my way to Canada, so once the craziness of the holidays was over, we would finally meet face to face.

I’m limited to a really bad internet phone connection from where I live, so I called him for the first time en route to Canada. Hearing his voice was unexpected and special in a way that comes from knowing a man’s dreams and desires, his heart, long before those words are associated with a specific tone and accent. It felt like we were doing everything backwards, but I reminded myself that I hadn’t managed to get the relationship thing right yet and this might be the way forward.

We talked for several hours many nights in a row, adding to the romance of our writings our individual voices and laughter. We discovered shared histories, philosophies, dreams that grew with each conversation. We anticipated our first meeting, planned romantic forays to points around the globe.

Along the way, there were plenty of signs that our meeting was not meant to be: his family life slowly revealed itself to be more complicated and drama-filled than I was comfortable with; his professional life seemed overextended; the head cold I’d picked up in November moved into my chest New Year’s Eve; the weather turned from frigid to freaky with talk of the here-to-for unheard of “Arctic Vortex,” huge accumulations of snow and blizzards wreaked havoc on airline schedules, delaying my departure by four days, exactly the number we planned to spend together.

What frightens me even now is that I didn’t heed all these signs even when, standing in line at the airport, shortly before learning I wasn’t going anywhere, he texted to say he had to cancel our meeting due to a family crisis.

We agreed our plans were on hold, not cancelled, and our conversations continued. But something had changed and when I returned to Baja, a gap seemed to open between us in proportion to the distance keeping us apart. I felt the dreams we’d co-created slipping into that gap.

 Like I said, communication is tough from where I live. Email is easy, but phone calls not at all and something seemed to be swallowing up his desire to stay connected. Let me tell you, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to connect with someone who has decided to disconnect. I kept my frustration to myself, but I didn’t understand how or why all the promise seemed to be evaporating, I just knew the loneliness and its twin-brother sadness was oozing back up around my knees.

The days dragged on into weeks during which he sent only two communications: the first to explain how another family crisis was demanding his attention; the second, a week later, to say that recent events made it clear he needed to give his complicated family all his attention.

Yup, a “dear-Jane-I-don’t-have-room-in-my-life-for-you” letter.

To say I was disappointed is putting it mildly. I was disappointed and angry. I wrote to a friend I’d been keeping abreast of developments, “It would have been nice had he done the work to figure that out before I spent the better part of six weeks getting to know him!” But it wasn’t just the time invested. It felt like he’d just blown a hole in the bottom of my lifeboat and the dark flood waters were threatening my new existence. Our collective dreams were swept away in the deluge and into the void crept that familiar feeling of isolation, joined now by a sense of abandonment. You know that picture of Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince standing on his tiny planet? That’s how I felt.

For several days.

Then reality crept back in and I realized how wrong this man was for me. How by clinging to him like a lifeboat that I thought could lift me out of my unhappy circumstances, I’d managed to turn him into what I wanted him to be rather than who he really was. I’ve known for many years and several relationships that I have a tendency to do this, but it was more than a little unsettling to recognize how easy it was for me to idealize even a relationship that hadn’t involved so much as a face-to-face meeting, let alone the intimacy of a kiss.

As I wondered how I might control this tendency, I remembered something that happened early in the process of getting to know him. I was walking down the beach, trying to discern if I should pursue a relationship with someone who sat well outside several parameters I’d discerned were important to me, when the word “trust” popped into my head. I decided then that I would trust in the intangible universal forces of good to take me where I needed to be, trust in the process, trust that I am exactly where I am meant to be. So I did. And in the process, I learned that it’s up to me to listen to my intuition and heed the red flags that tell me when someone is not the right person or this is not the right path for me. Yeah, 45 and still learning to trust myself.

The Lonely Desert Dweller Club

lonely desert

(W)e humans need to love and be loved. We need and need to be needed. These are basic. We cannot be fully human unless these needs are met.
John Bradshaw

Some time last year I placed a few index cards strategically around the house on which I’d written “Happiness is a Choice!” I’d read somewhere that sadness and discontent can be nothing more than a habit and that like so many other bad habits, we can turn it around through awareness and practice. So I began to “practice” happiness. When prompted by a card, I reminded myself to be thankful for what I have and to actively smile. Research says that through the simple act of smiling we cause an increase in the release of the neurotransmitters associated with feelings of happiness. Similarly, Brene Brown’s research has revealed that feelings of gratitude are actually a requisite precursor to feeling joy. So I began to practice smiling, being grateful, consciously embracing all that is good in my life. And I think it worked, when I remembered to practice.

Then I got sick.

There’s nothing like not feeling well to mess with our best intentions. Whether it’s a new exercise regimen or mindfulness practice, illness tends to halt our progress and cause us to slide back down the slippery garden path to our previous levels of dissatisfaction, whether it be with our waistline or our emotional state. To add insult to injury, my illness meant I wasn’t getting the usual regular doses of adrenaline and other endorphins from surfing and kiting, nor the vitamin D from being in the sun. What was a mild case of the blues began to spiral downward into the dark abyss of deep sadness (I’m reticent to call it depression, as I have no idea what my brain chemistry is doing, and on the one occasion in my life when I experienced true clinical depression the symptoms were much more pronounced, so for now let’s just call this some serious sadness).

I’ve been reticent to admit this, but the sadness I’m feeling is the kind that comes from loneliness, from not having someone to share the day to day ups and downs, the drudgery and special moments that make up our days, someone to join over dinner to share thoughts, dreams, quiet togetherness. I think you’ll agree that one of the things that gives life meaning is in sharing it with the people we love. Not having that special someone with whom to share all these tiny beautiful moments is what I’m missing. Like the quote above says, we need to love and be loved, to need and be needed. These are essential to our well-being, part of our core make-up as human beings. We are social animals. And forgive me those of you who have chosen otherwise, but I believe there is a certain pathology to not wanting to share your life with someone…not just anyone, but someone with whom you “click,” someone who gets and accepts you, wino-tendencies and all.

When I told a friend how I’d had it up to my eyeballs with being alone, he pointed out that I wasn’t leading a life or living in a location that lends itself to “waltzing into the traditional loving situation.” He continued, “You being in the desert is of course metaphorical. Some days, I’m sure, [must be] almost Bukowskian in bleak commitment.” So there you have it.

Current laments aside, I’m not one to wallow. I believe in taking action when I find myself pushing up against something prickly in my life. So when the spines of loneliness began to sting too deeply I acted.

One night a couple of months ago, after hearing from the umpteenth happy couple about how they’d met online and with my inhibitions erased by several glasses of cheap red wine, I bit the bullet and joined an online dating site. [You have NO idea how hard it is for me to admit that.] My actions that night expressed an attitude I’d begun to wear like a mildewed jacket. “What the hell,” I thought. “I’m never going to meet anyone as long as I’m in this place.”

Next morning when I realized what I’d done I felt a surge of fear, horror, and self-loathing rise bitter and acidic – not unlike the previous night’s wine – in my throat. I was consumed by doubts about the process, about putting myself “out there,” about admitting I was at the point where I no longer trusted that it would happen organically. It felt, dare I say it, cheap. And I judged it an admission of failure. Ha! “Yeah,” I reminded myself, “You’ve ‘failed’ to find true love among the illiterate Mexican ranchers, pothead surfers, and retired beer-bellied Ex-Pats that comprise the miniscule population of this bleak Baja desert.”

To say I was non-committal about the process at first is an understatement. My heart sank when I found out how much the service cost – on top of everything else, I was broke. Until I agreed to pay their extortionist fee, all I could see of potential suitors was their first name, place of residence, and profession below a shadowy outline of an “everyman” head where their profile photo would be if I paid up. I couldn’t even read the contents of their profile. To top it off, I’d completed the questionnaire designed to evaluate my personality and connect me with like-minded gentlemen the same bleary-eyed night I signed up, so a question nagged at the back of my mind, “Just how accurate can this thing be?” I figured it’d be my rightful comeuppance if all I heard from were W.C Fields bulbous-nosed drunks.

I posted a profile that I hoped was an honest reflection of who I am, sober, or at worst only mildly hungover. But by the end of that first day of exploration, I began to realize that the Lonely Desert Dweller Seeks Ripped and Ripping Surfer Project would require a significant investment of those precious commodities, time and money. I asked myself once again, “Is this really the solution to my discontent?”

To be continued…

The Real Dawn Revealed

Be free be yourselfNot until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
  Henry David Thoreau

I’ve been struggling lately. I’ve been struggling just to show up here and tell you what is going on in my life because it’s not been an adventure and it’s about as far from “cool” as the Baja desert in August. I’ve been struggling with whether to share what is happening or whether to struggle and suffer in silence, which is, after all, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant way. I am slowly realizing, however that struggle is what makes me, makes us all, human. Despite trying to wear her mask, I am not Super Woman, I’m not perfect, and I’m definitely not always together and smiling, skipping down the beach without a care in the world. And along those lines, I think that in many ways this blog has been a front, a pretense, a misrepresentation of who I am.

In an attempt to be honest and real, I gave voice to my struggle last August and you responded positively. With words of encouragement and understanding. I was astounded that a blog that I had considered not publishing because it revealed too much got more comments than any other I’d written. Nevertheless, I figured that once was enough and I’d best tuck the “I’m not happy” line of discussion back into the cave in my heart where I thought it belonged. Hence the silence. It’s hard to maintain the party line about your adventurous life when it’s actually filled with chronic sadness bordering on depression, illness probably brought on by a weakened immune system the result of such sadness, and the literally mind-numbing sensation that you are all alone in that sadness.

If I’m to be honest, I’ve felt like I’m knee deep in liquid cow manure for the last year or so and then in the last few months, the levels rose to somewhere just south of my nose. Sure I’m still breathing, but from where I’m standing, life stinks.

I was literally sick for most of November and all of December, culminating in a serious sinus infection and bronchitis while visiting Canada during the coldest December and early January they’ve experienced in over 30 years. There’s a reason I moved to the tropics and it has a lot to do with those winters. Even if I hadn’t moved here to learn to surf, I would have moved somewhere warm. I was over being cold, catching cold, feeling miserable for so many months out of the year. Did I ever mention on here that I once frost bit all ten of my toes? They were black. Coal black. I gasped when I saw them. But that’s another story for another blog. So you aren’t left in suspense though, I will say I still have all ten of my little piggies. Miraculously.

Canadians who stick it out for the often six months of frigid weather are a tough lot. They grin and bear what for me has become unbearable. The warmth of Baja has made me thin-skinned, a wussy by Canadian standards, but that’s okay. Admitting I’m a wuss is a fair price to pay for sun kissed skin and wearing flip flops 12 months out of the year. But I digress.

My point is this – I was already feeling down and then I got sick with a mild illness that dragged me down another notch and it lasted for what seemed like forever.

I know, this is a bummer post…but I’m not going to apologize for that. I cannot and will no longer try to minimize and cover up what it is that I’m feeling in the deepest recesses of my soul. And I need to show up, I need to share what I’m feeling because I know that I am not alone and that there are countless people the world over feeling isolated, alone, and depressed. Why do you think Philip Seymour Hoffman shot tainted heroin into his veins on Sunday? Many people, like me, are beating themselves up for not being more thankful for what they do have. And I am thankful. I’m so very thankful for the many blessings that my life abounds with. But the reality is that at the end of the day there are some fundamental things that this life of mine needs in order for me to be truly and unabashedly joyful – yeah, that skipping-down-the-beach-singing-a-jaunty-tune kind of joy that I constantly try to convince everyone out there I’m steeped in. I’ve been operating under the premise that if you believe it, I will too. But it’s just another front like the Super Woman mask I put on when I’m feeling insecure and vulnerable, which, to be honest, is most of the time.

I’m doing the work, I’m reading the self-help books that I hope will unearth the demons that plague me, meditating, doing yoga, eating right, getting in the water now that I’m no longer hacking up a lung. Admittedly, while visiting a friend on the west coast recently to get some surf and much needed social interaction, I probably had more tequila than was wise for someone balancing so precariously on the shadowy line between sadness and clinical depression, but the friendship was invaluable, the waves challenging, but fun. I believe it was Thoreau who said that when we are feeling down we must surround ourselves with positive people. So I went and visited one of the most positive people I know, who it just happened was going through his own health crisis and is dry docked for a month in the middle of surf season on his side of the peninsula. Then he got a message about his cousin being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer – two types no less. Nothing like a little perspective to make you see the silver lining around your own cloud.

So I don’t know if it was the perspective adjustment, time in the water, or just time, but I feel better now than I did when I began writing this post a few days ago. Nevertheless, I need to put this out there: sometimes my life sucks. To be more specific, often times, despite how together and happy we appear from the outside looking in, people are often suffering. I think that in North America we’ve lost our tolerance for suffering. The images of perfection we’re fed by The Media tell us to “Fake it ‘til you make it!” Tell us it’s not acceptable to admit our frailties, our fears, our weaknesses. Tell us to put the Super Man or Super Woman mask on and smile. But that’s a lie, one that hurts the liar and the deceived alike because it’s not who we really are, it’s not how we’re really feeling. If people knew how we were really feeling, they might reach out and offer us a hand – encouragement, a compassionate ear, a hug.

I haven’t shown up here for three months because I couldn’t muster the strength to dawn the mask. As I write these last sentences though, I’m feeling better, more honest, truer to myself. Ironically, it seems I’m made stronger by losing the mask.

The Condition My Condition Is In

For whatever reason, I don’t get a lot of comments on this blog. People read it, but they don’t feel the need to express their opinions afterwards. Maybe they’d like to tell me what they really think, but they’re being polite. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of comments made here and via email in response to my last post, in which I admitted to feeling the negative effects of my isolated lifestyle. Those words of thoughtful advice and encouragement reminded me that loneliness is a common ailment in our increasingly isolated and isolating societies. It became apparent there was a lot of empathy to my plight, a lot of “yeah, I’ve been there.”

The number of comments spoke of how many of us have felt this emotion, but while wandering around Facebook the day after publishing that blog, I stumbled across an article from Slate magazine called Loneliness is Deadly. The Universe tapping me directly on the shoulder? The melodramatic title did its attention-getting job. As I read it, I couldn’t help but notice that much of what the author described as the consequences of loneliness I knew, at least intuitively, to be true. I realized that for months, except for to a couple of close friends, I had avoided communicating how I felt because of the stigma associated with admitting we are lonely. The notion that we are capital “L” Losers if we admit to being lonely is sad, potentially disastrous, and just so much BS. If we avoid talking about it, we’ll never realize that there are a whole bunch of us walking around here not realizing that there are bunch of us out there feeling the same way. Comfort in numbers, my lonely friends!

A few days later I opened my email to be struck by the timeliness of Nathan Bransford’s latest post “Writing and Loneliness.” Then, just to make sure I really got the message, a week later the Daily Good newsletter I receive each day drove home the bottom line, the same message all those comments to my blog were sending: While we may be lonely, “We Have Never Been Alone.” Hannah Brencher distilled my feelings and pointed out an oft forgotten reality:

Loneliness is quite capable of swallowing us whole. And Loneliness will think to do a lot of things, but it will never think to spit us back up until we look around and realize that we have never been Alone.

Alone and Loneliness. They are two different things. One is thick, and the other is a myth. We have never been alone, not a day in our lives. What kind of devil hissed this lie in our ears? Yes, we have felt tender. Yes, we have felt defeated. But no, we have never been alone so much as we have refused to let the others in.

And so I began to examine where I might be keeping people out, whether I was the one who was isolating myself or had circumstances conspired to put me here in Isolationville?

I’d already taken matters into my own hands to actively remedy my situation.

Solution Number One was seeking and applying for jobs that will either give me the financial wherewithal to get out of Dodge more often, or necessitate leaving Dodge altogether.

Solution Number Two was to once again temporarily get out of Dodge. There’s nothing like a two week surf vacation away from your regular surfing life to give you a new lease on life!

The little town where I found myself was itself remote, but it turned out that I was not the only one looking to for a little surf-related R&R. New friendships were made and old ones renewed. And that saying about a change being as good as a rest? Well, it’s a cliché for good reason.

A few days into my surf vacation, I realized I’d never actually taken a surf vacation. By that I mean, I’ve never taken a trip for the express purpose of surfing. Yes, I’ve surfed away from home, but rarely, and I’ve always had another reason for taking the trip. Surfing hasn’t been the primary focus. I’ve even flown all the way to Fiji and Hawaii and not so much as paddled.

I spent two weeks at this very special surf spot and, unlike when I am at home, had no trouble at all getting up well before sunrise to hit the water before the crowds. I was the first one out every morning with only one exception (and yes, the size of the surf probably had something to do with the fact that no one was really chomping at the bit to get out there). I was pleasantly surprised on the first morning to see my favorite winter constellations – Orion and Sirius – shining overhead as I loaded the truck with essentials (lots of drinking water and my buddy Friday). The water’s coolness washed away any lingering drowsiness as I dragged my feet through the shallows (to avoid getting stung by stingrays who might be lurking on the sandy bottom). Sirius blinked in the gradually brightening sky as I paddled out into the bay where two to three footers peeled right to left from the rocky point. I placed myself a few feet inside of where I knew the larger waves would break, hoping to be the recipient of one of the set waves that typically appear just before the sun breaks the horizon. It was pure joy catching that first wave each morning before anyone else was out. The sight of me erect and sailing across the face of a wave was usually enough to get the campers moving though and soon I’d be joined by two, then three or four others.

Friday, traveler extraordinaire.

Friday, tucked in next to the 6’8″ Roger Beal, which sadly didn’t get wet this trip.

Near the end of the first week, more campers appeared along the bluff overlooking the break in response to swell reports that promised better waves, waves that had yet to materialize. By the time the sun had risen there’d be six, sometimes eight of us in the water, chasing knee-high waves. The waves’ size made for a mellow crowd. We shared the little peelers and chatted between inconsistent two-wave sets. The vibe was sweet and it felt good to be part of something so positive. Even the boys from Orange County, used to surfing among the aggro crowd at Trestles, encouraged me to drop in on them, yelling, “Party wave!” more than a little often. My faith in So Cal surfers was renewed along with my conviction that being connected to the larger Human Race is our natural state, our salvation.

Beautiful, but about as close to flat as it gets.

*********************

And speaking of small waves, here’s a beautiful piece about riding the small stuff, Small Waves by Thorpe Moeckel.

Stuck in a Moment?

"Rock, Hard Place" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.I’m feeling that prickly sensation of mild sunburn on my forehead and the backs of my legs. After two weeks out of the water and away from Baja, it’s good to be home. I wasn’t so sure that I’d be feeling this way though. I wasn’t sure I was going to want to come home.

I’ve not only been MIA from this blog for a while, but I’ve been feeling MIA from life a fair bit too. I’ve been struggling, depressed and lonely. I’ve been fighting with the realities of my lifestyle.

I’m pretty sure I can hear you thinking where do I get off feeling this way? Believe me, I’ve been told many times and am usually very aware that I have every reason to be content, that I live a life most people would give a few fingers for. My ex, in his eloquence, is fond of saying I’ve “got it dicked.” And I usually can convince myself that’s true and find a reason to be content, if not outright happy. But there’s something missing and so much of what is obvious from the outside looking in just masks the difficult realities of my lifestyle. To compound the problem, I feel a tremendous amount of guilt any time I feel dissatisfied. Feeling guilty about how I’m feeling does nothing to help the situation.

When I find myself in this place, I do my best not to wallow or let it drag me down into a pit of self-pity. What I do instead is gratefully acknowledge everything I have, eat right, drink less and try to figure out what fundamentally is making me feel like crap so I can fix it. The fix is always one of two things – an attitude adjustment or something external I can change. Typically the former approach is enough to turn things around, but when the depression is the result of too much partying and surfing, and not enough sleep, changing my external circumstances can work wonders. This time though the only cause I could come up with was that I had been living in isolation for eight months and needed to get out. Getting out, however, requires funds, which are in short supply (for now, she optimistically writes), so I turned to my ex who’d been asking me to come help him with a landscaping project on Maui. He’d fly me to Hawaii in exchange for help with his project, some baking and home cooked meals.

The remarkable thing is that as soon as I booked my tickets, I felt better. Instantly. Days before my scheduled departure. I woke up early, enthusiastic for what the day would bring and looking forward to what lay ahead. I thought, “!s that all it takes? Something different to look forward to?”

As the plane took off and banked North in the direction of San Francisco, I felt a elephantine weight lift and my mood shifted skyward with the plane. Less than 24 hours in San Francisco and I started to think, “Maybe I should move to California and get a real job, get involved in some kind of community work…rejoin civilization.” Yeah, I can barely believe it either.

And then, rather than laugh at myself, leave it at that unbelievable thought, and return to my unreal life, I said out loud to three well-connected people, “So if you know anyone who’s looking for someone to house sit, a writer or editor, or anything really, let me know.”

On Maui, I began the process of formulating a plan that would make my new dream come true. I even came up with a way I could have my cake and eat it too. “I’ll get a writing job that only requires that I be in the office periodically.” And there were thoughts of landing a regular house- and animal-sitting gig.

The time on the island went fast. Too fast. I kept thinking up reasons why I should stay longer. “We didn’t accomplish enough on the project.” “I should go to this writing workshop that’s scheduled on the Sunday after I’m supposed leave.” “I didn’t get to have good pizza.” “I really should go see friend X.” But I had responsibilities back home that couldn’t wait and some disturbed weather off the coast of southern Mexico suggested a tropical storm might form sooner rather than later. I kept to the original plan and promised myself I’d return to the City by the Bay this fall or winter.

The flight from Maui to San Francisco, via Portland is not short. I had plenty of time to get caught up on my reading. I’d packed my Kindle in my checked baggage by mistake, so I read the only thing I had handy – Volume 24.3 of The Surfers Journal. And as I read from front to back cover, three quotes in three separate articles resonated with me, revealing a theme that shed light on the source of my dissatisfaction.

It’s easy to feel isolated when you’re no longer part of mainstream life.”

Day after day, no matter how perfect the waves get, there is a feeling of remoteness here, a sense that the rest of the world is moving along, more engaged, more connected, and more interesting.”

I felt a pang of recognition delivered with the pointier end of a stick as I read the last one:

If every day is a holiday, there are no more holidays.”

There they were, hard, sharp, and undeniable on the page – the three main reasons I was feeling down, along with their remedies:

Isolation, remoteness, and monotony versus engaged, connected, and interesting.

I feel, often, like I am on another planet or could be, for all the interaction I have with people. The little bit I have is limited in scope and time. What I’m struggling with, bumping up against, is the need to feel connected, deeply connected, to other members of the human race and to feel engaged in some cause that benefits others. But I’m scared by what that means. Really scared. That ache-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach scared. It’s the changes I’d have to make implied by this realization that scare the living shit out of me. And then I think, “What if this feeling is something that will pass and I end up regretting it for the rest of my life?” After all, we’re talking about walking away from what, for the most part, is a pretty amazing lifestyle. Then I worry that I’m looking in the wrong place for a solution to my dissatisfaction – external conditions. Maybe I just need to “do the work” and everything will turn rosy again. Maybe, just maybe, I’m “stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it.” But the memory of the epiphany I had on that plane tells me that’s just wishful thinking. The prospect of leaving this surfers’ paradise is daunting. But if at the other end I find meaning and fulfillment, the choice seems pretty obvious. Nevertheless, I don’t know. I just don’t know. Do you?